How to Buy – Steve Earle

Tuesday 31st March

I used to be in the habit of buying cheap CD singles, this was in the early nineties and you could pick them up for 50p or less.  One which took my eye was by Steve Earle, it was ‘Justice in Ontario’.  I’d not heard of him before but I was hooked, working backwards and then forwards as the years rolled on.  I don’t have every single record, but pretty much most of them.  He is from Texas and should be a redneck Republican, but is actually very left wing, anti guns, anti death penalty and anti war.  He sings Hillbilly, Country and Raw Rock, a great combination….

Absolutely Essential – Guitar Town, his debut and almost unsurpassed with a whole bunch of exceptional tunes, including ‘Little Rock’n’Roller’ a song for one of his estranged children. Also ‘Train a Comin’  his comeback album after a few years detained in jail for various drug related offences.  This has the poignant ‘Goodbye’, a beautiful take on Beatles ‘I’m Looking Through You’ and a Townes Van Zeldt song ‘Tecumseh Valley’ – never has Steve sounded better.

Very Good – his remaining pre-prison albums ‘Exit 0’, ‘Copperhead Road’ and ‘The Hard Way’ – also a great Live album ‘At The BBC’.   Not forgetting ‘El Corazon’ ‘I Feel Alright’ and ‘The Revolution Starts Now’ – all later albums which have that great mix of heavy rocking, a dash of politics and poignant heartache ballads.

Good – are ‘Transcendental Blues’ and ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Washington Square Serenade’ but for me they don’t quite hit the heights.  Another very good live album is ‘Just An American Boy’

For The Completist – The Mountain, a pure bluegrass album, and ‘Shut Up and Die’ an earlier live record.

Personally I will listen to anything of his anytime anywhere and enjoy it.  His Greatest Hits are also available but as he changed record labels a few times there doesn’t seem to be one which covers his entire career. He still makes records every couple of years and they don’t diminish in quality; amazingly he keeps coming up with new melodies that are almost as infectious as his first ones.  A true original.

Another Sunday, Another Exhibition

Monday 30th March

Well I was quite exhausted when I flew in on Saturday.  I had been to Walton on Friday night, and just as well, as there was a mountain of post to deal with.  Up early on Saturday morning and out to catch the eight-o-clock train.  Slightly delayed as there was a points failure at Thorpe Le Soken and they had to shunt trains in and out of the station to enable people to change for either the slow stopping train to Colchester Town or the faster one into London.  DLR from Stratford to Island Gardens, it was bitterly cold and windy walking to the house.  I repacked the case and ironed a couple of shirts and headed off for Stansted.  By this time I had spent nearly five hours already on trains of one sort or another, and another flight to look forward to.

Sunday morning we woke to rain; il pleut – though it did clear up and we caught a glimpse of le soleil en l’apres midi.  I opened the café and Marie our neighbor was there to pick up the paintings of her friend Anick.  Today was the day of the changeover.  I had carefully packed 12 quite large framed prints by our good friend Liz in London and my wife drove them and a multitude of other stuff and the dogs down a couple of weeks ago.  It was quite good fun hanging them but a bit like Bernie the Bolt (who can remember that) with instructions – up a bit, down an inch and to the left, no to the right and up a bit.   But we got there okay in the end.  And I must say they look fantastique.  Very modern and very different and, in the nature that a collection of anything looks better than an individual piece, they set the café off wonderfully.  So, a successful day – and now we must prepare for Le Vernissage (anyone know what that means?) on Saturday.

Another chunk of 2066

Sunday 29th March

I was flying out again yesterday so no time for an original blog.  Back to Janek Smith being observed by one of the powers that be, as he is partaking of that most dangerous of enterprises, telling the truth.

-{ Janek was sweating.  In fact it was running down his pyjama clad chest and dampening the waist band of his grey cotton-lite leggings.  He decided to take a shower.  He suspected that his body-stats may be monitored at his work as a matter of course, along with his regular temperature, pulse and blood pressure every week.  Maybe they could even detect excessive sweating – since writing his diary he had been sweating at work too.  Besides he didn’t like sweating, his home and workplace were air-conned and the temperature and humidity automatically adjusted to suit both him and his wife, so his sweating was undoubtedly caused by his fear.  He took a tab of ‘Karm’ and almost immediately felt the panic slide away from him.  It was as if he could suddenly breathe easier, his lungs expanded, his temperature subsided, his arteries opened wider, and the increased oxygen hitting his brain did the rest. Sighing deeply and feeling relaxed at last as the panic ebbed out of his brain, he stepped into the shower capsule and the doors silently glided shut behind him.  In a fraction of a second he was immersed in a fine mist of very hot water and skin-nourishing chemicals.  The pores of his skin opened and were flushed clean, scrubbed of all secretions and germs.  The water temperature dropped suddenly to a degree above freezing and his scoured pores closed again in a second.  Before he had time to register the cold he was enveloped in a room temperature roaring-rush of air that swirled around him, drying his skin and hair in less than a minute.  He stepped out and feeling invigorated, refreshed and relaxed was ready to face the day.


It was as if all that fear and paranoia had dissolved too, like the mist on the horizon as the sun comes up each morning.  Janek smiled at his reflection in the mirror and picking up the mouth-hygiene-jetter, opened his mouth and cleaned his teeth, feeling that effervescent tingle as his nerve-sensors lapped up the refreshing mix of cleanser, and nutrients swirling around his mouth.  He held the shaver close as the super-sensitive head guided itself around every nook and cranny, recognising the contours, remembering the dips and the ridges, never once nipping his skin, leaving him smooth and clean.  He finished off with a swipe under each arm and then up to his face, where the shaver automatically switched from pubic to facial hair recognition and removed those tiny bristles that persisted to grow around his nose and mouth despite the hormone suppression tea he drunk every morning.  At least he only had to shave his face every third day now, he briefly wondered how people used to cope with daily shaving only a few years ago.  Just a brief toilet visit and a swirl of disinfected water and air on the superbidet to clean himself and he was ready to face the world.


If only he could stay this relaxed, this calm, and forget all that ‘journal’ nonsense…]-

Watching England Play

Saturday 28th March

Though not the most obsessive of spectators I do try to watch England play football.  I must say it is almost always a disappointing experience; in fact many times I have despaired at our performance.  Too many times one is watching very rich young men who appear to not really give a damn whether they win or lose, they seem to enjoy playing for their clubs but when it comes to playing for country they sink into a lackluster torpor.  And when the F.A appointed Roy Hodgson rather than the nation’s favourite Harry Redknapp I shared the underwhelming feeling of “Oh no, why on earth did they choose him?”  England got bundled out of the World Cup at the first hurdle in what turned out to be one of the toughest of groups.  Maybe they were unlucky or poorly prepared or simply lacked enough confidence.  But the F. A. kept faith with Roy and strangely ever since their early exit from Brazil England have been very very good.  Winning all four of their European Qualifying matches they are looking superb.

So, for a change I was really looking forward to watching them last night.  There was also the added spice of Harry Kane, the phenomenon of the year who is the Premier League’s leading goal-scorer, expected to make his debut.  And I was not disappointed.  England were simply brilliant. Rooney could have had a hat-trick within ten minutes but had to settle for one, bringing him ever closer to being the highest England scorer ever.  Two more goals followed and you got the feeling that whenever we got the ball a goal was possible.  Harry Kane did not start but spent five minutes waiting on the touchline and eventually came on for the last twenty minutes, and fairy-tale stuff, he scored within two minutes.  What a man and what a match.  We are top of our group and top of our game.


Friday 27th March

The Scots have a word for this weather.  And it is dreek.  And the very sound of the word, the almost squeaky sound, the slight sneer as it rolls off your tongue lets you know exactly what it means.  Cold, wet and windy.  Dark brooding skies with no hint of sunshine ever again penetrating this gloom.  It is unseasonably cold; March should be about spring flowers bursting into bloom, and indeed back in Eymet a couple of Magnolia trees are even starting their short-lived and vivid burst into colour.  Here you cannot even lift your head up to observe any crocuses or daffodils – all is gloom.  Not sure if this is settled in for the whole day yet, but it feels like it.

It is Thursday morning for me as I sit in Pret watching the stream of soaking commuters shaking the rain off their umbrellas and coats and queuing patiently for their morning fix of coffee.  Breakfast on the run.  And the news is pretty dreek too.  Another mysterious plane crash; too many unanswered questions.  Now a leaked report seems to suggest that one of the pilots had left the cockpit and sought re-entry by knocking gently.  No answer and he knocks again then starts banging furiously – all just minutes before the crash.  Was it suicide?  Could it have possibly been deliberate, or was the other pilot unconscious?  Questions we may never know the answer to, just as last year at almost the same time of year the Malaysian plane went missing and is still not found.  In a strange way these “accidents” could be an unexpected result of the twin towers outrage.  Cockpits now are locked to prevent possible terrorist passengers getting to the pilot; the cockpit doors can only be opened from the inside once the plane is in the air.  Who knows?  Maybe we have just made life too complicated.  I am at present a very frequent flyer and though I am mildly annoyed at the probably unnecessary restrictions regarding fluids and having to remove belt and shoes and any metal before going through the security arch (by the way last time at Stansted someone knicked two pound coins from my tray, which I thought was a bit pathetic) I stand in line and do as I am told.  You never know, do you?  Another two days of dreek-like work and then flying (fingers crossed) out again to Bergerac.  Hopefully leaving all this dreekness far behind me…

Update 1)  The rain stopped and the sun came out, Wonderful.

Update 2)  Looks like the co-pilot took the plane down deliberately killing 150 people.  Terrible.

The Rush and the Bustle

Thursday 26th March

The thing I notice most is that here in London (again, but just for three days) it is all rush and bustle.  People are almost breaking into a run as they scurry (me too, of course) like rats along the subterranean tunnels connecting tube lines.  Everyone is in such a hurry, literally bursting to get onto that packed train, shoving their way on.  And another will be here in two minutes, but somehow we (for I am one of them) cannot possibly wait.  What, let a train go, packed as it might be, when, who knows, the next one might be just as full…

And so it is all rush and bustle, the more so as it contrasts so vividly with Eymet.  Here, there is more of a stately procession, as the day wakes up.  It is an hour later there, and yet by nine there is little sign of any activity at all in the town.  Shops supposedly opening at nine may, if you are lucky, start to wind back the shutters at a quarter past.  The French do not go in for bright lights in their shops anyway; quite often you think the place must be shut, only on pushing the door to discover that it is actually open and in dimly lit interiors there are even one or two customers.  Even in the larger stores in Bergerac opening times are vague at best.  Most still close between twelve and two, and start to stop you even entering the shop at eleven, forty-five.  And yet this slower pace of life where the average worked hours per week are significantly less than here in Britain does not mean that the country crumbles.  Life goes on in its meanderingly slow way, and by and large I would say that the people are happier.  We are so driven here by the work ethic, and the sure knowledge that staying late or taking work home is not only condoned but encouraged that we make ourselves miserable with work.  We grab a sandwich for lunch and eat it at our desk which would almost be considered a crime in France.  And at the end of the day we are too exhausted to even cook, grabbing a take-away or microwaveable ready meal on our journey home. The French take their food seriously and take time preparing and eating it.  You tell me which system is best…

Sometimes No news Is Good News

Sometimes No news Is Good NewsWednesday 25th MarchI do love the news.  For as long as I can remember I have been addicted to the News.  As a teenager I used to steal a Times from my paper round and read it avidly while the maths teacher was droning on, more interested in UDI in Rhodesia than Logarythms.  Usually too during the day at every opportunity I grab a look at 24 hour rolling news.  But yesterday I was returning to England and busy packing my case or helping in the café so I didn’t get a chance to switch on.
And thank goodness I didn’t.  I am always a bit nervous flying.  Rationally I know that flying is by far the safest form of flying, or one of them; that you are far more likely to be killed on the roads than in the air.  But.  As the plane speeds along the runway and as the plane lifts your heart almost skips a beat.  Relief; because of course take off and landing are by far the most dangerous parts of the flight.  Then I am buried in my kindle, or listening to music or trying to sleep.  A bit more nervousness during landing, then another sigh of relief as we taxi to the stand.  Can’t wait to get off though and put my feet on terra firma again.  A quick text to say “Landed safely” and through Passport Control, grab a coffee and onto the train (another safe from of transport).I grabbed an Evening Standard at Stratford, and on page 2, a small paragraph about a plane disappearing, presumed crashed in the French Alps.  Home and the news is full of it.  Distressed relatives, aerial shots of mountainsides and helicopters searching for wreckage.  Hollande and Merkel rushing to the scene, the usual unanswered questions – why were there no Mayday calls etc:  Thank Goodness yesterday I hadn’t seen the news at all.  I am sure I would have been okay, but possibly a bit more nervous.

The View From France

Tuesday 24th March

We generally watch British TV here in Eymet.  But some days it is just too awful, even with many channels on Sky to watch.  Out of boredom and tiredness brought on by eating too much I expect we decided to watch French news (in English – we aren’t that good at French).  And it is quite different from our news.  You forget that what is news in the U.K; another Tory parliamentary Candidate being forced to resign; Milliband re-iterating that he will not do a deal with the SNP, or Theresa May promising more anti-extremist measures is of no interest to the French.  Their news leads with the Front National and Marine Le Pen, who has co-incidentally shaken up French Politics in much the same way, but with even more success than Nigel Farage has in Britain.  And their second story was the civil war in Yemen, which we hardly hear about at all.

So in a similar way to our politics there is a fracturing of the old established powerful parties here in France. The extreme right-wing, which was once laughed at is now gaining ground.  There is now open discussion of issues which were once not talked about.  Anti European and anti immigrant rhetoric is now acceptable in a way that even UKIP seems reticent about here.  And of course, for us British living and enjoying our lives out here it is starting to become a bit worrying.  It feels as if the European Union may not actually survive for that much longer.  What was once ‘Le Grand Projet’ is now on the defensive and being attacked on all sides.  And what everyone fears is a referendum, where the gloves will be off and the media will play on people’s fears and before we know where we are either Britain or France or any of the larger countries will vote to leave.  And once one goes it will so much harder to hold the thing together.  Quite what this will mean for people who are living in a different country no-one quite knows, but is not unimaginable that if this xenophobia continues not only Muslims and blacks and Jews will be targeted but maybe we British too.  Internationalism is now almost a dirty word and as the economy stagnates the Right wing are looking for somebody to blame.  Scary stuff…

Neglected Poems – No. 8 – Whisper The Words

Monday 23rd March

And now for something completely different – a happy poem.  Must have had an off day…

Whisper The Words

Whisper the words, don’t say them out loud

Whisper you love me if you aren’t too proud

Your breath soft like honey seeps into my heart

It sweetens and lightens the dark dingy parts

Whisper you love me, don’t shout it out loud

Put your lips to my ear, I’ll imagine the sound

This night is so silent, this room is so still

I’ll whisper the words, I promise I will

If you whisper the words, say them soft to the moon

Watch as they hover and drift back so soon

I’ll whisper them too, we won’t make a sound

As we whisper the love we’ve suddenly found

Petty Wars Everywhere You Look

Sunday 22nd March

And some not so petty either.  The fighting in Ukraine may be officially halted by a cease-fire but the hatred remains as deep; and there is sniping and occasional incursions daily, each side trying to steal a few yards, an abandoned hamlet or a field.  Nobody has any real expectation that this latest halt to the fighting will last; both sides Russia and us are re-arming their proxies as quickly as possible with almost no attempt at hiding it.  It may be months or only weeks but as soon as one side or the other feels confident enough real fighting will break out again.  In Syria there is still at least a four-way battle.  Assad is fighting both the Western backed rebels and Isis.  The rebels are fighting Assad while quietly thanking Isis for keeping him from hitting them so hard.  The Americans are bombing away as if at a shooting range, but seem to be very ineffective.  The Kurds are also fighting Isis, but their agenda is undoubtedly eventually their own state, which of course Turkey, Syria and Russia oppose.  This is another war with no end in sight, it only hits the news when other wars are a bit quieter.  In Iraq itself fighting is heavy with Iran now the saviour of the Shia majority.  They are slowly rolling Isis back (we are occasionally dumping tons of crap on them too, for what possible good I cannot imagine) and will probably win in the end, though what a Shia victory will mean for the Sunni areas is likely to be another disaster in waiting.  We forget about Yemen, which is also being torn apart by sectarian violence, as is Somalia.  And I am sure that all over the Arab peninsula the battle for dominance between Sunni Saudi (supposedly our friends but who are covertly arming Isis) and Iran (supposedly our enemy but who are winning the fight against Isis) is being played out.  Israel, basking in another Likud victory is flexing its muscles for a fight with Iran, but maybe they will just beat up Gaza again (nobody seems too bothered whenever they do).  Libya, after our intervention to help topple the belatedly Western friendly Gadhafi is now a total mess with several civil wars raging.  There are bombings now in Egypt and Tunisia too and it won’t be long before real wars erupt there too I suspect.  Nigeria is engulfed in its own battle with Boko Harem, which may or may not be linked to Isis, and this is spilling into Chad and Niger.  Sudan and the breakaway South Sudan are engaged in constant border fights.  In the Central African Republic and Congo there is even more fighting between local warlords. I may well have missed a few wars on the way too.

And what is it all for?  Why do young men (boys often) and women continue to die fighting people they consider as different to themselves?  Why is rape and impregnating innocent girls considered an acceptable weapon? Why are there even rules in warfare anyway, which seem to be broken with impunity, when to my mind the very act of killing another person is the greatest crime anyway?  So many wars, so many unreported deaths and so little we can do about it.  Switch channels and watch some more Celebrity rubbish before we have to even suspect that most of this might just be our fault in the first place.